King County task force says new schools should go in urban areas

April 11, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

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NEW — 5:30 p.m. April 11, 2012

A 30-member task force unanimously agreed to recommend that new school sitings in King County be done in urban areas and rural towns, not in areas designated as rural.

King County officials announced the decision April 11.

“These are thoughtful recommendations that will help deliver educational excellence for our children without sacrificing the environment of our rural areas,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a press release.

According to the county, the School Siting Task Force evaluated an inventory of 18 rural properties owned by eight school districts in King County. The county lists one such property owned by the Issaquah School District along Southeast May Valley Road. County information does not provide an exact address.

According to the task force report, the parcel sits between Squak Mountain to the north and Cedar Hills Regional Landfill to the south. The report describes the site as having conservation value and recommends the school district work with county officials as well as leaders in Issaquah and Renton to find urban locations for any future expansion needs.

The property is listed as encompassing just over 79 acres with an assessed value of $1.4 million.

The Issaquah School District is closed this week for spring break. Local officials were not immediately available for comment.

The county described all 18 properties as “straddling” the Urban Growth Boundary, established under state law with the idea of safeguarding rural areas and preventing urban sprawl. The county states the lands were purchased by the school districts involved with an eye toward future growth.

In the case of the Issaquah district property, the task force report states the property does not immediately border an Urban Growth Boundary. It also states the area has no sewers.

Besides the Issaquah district, other districts involved include Northshore, Lake Washington, Snoqualmie, Kent and Tahoma.

“The questions of whether schools should continue to be sited in rural areas has been unresolved for more than a decade,” said Louise Miller, task force chairwoman and a former King County Council member. “I’m happy to have been part of its solution.”

“It’s been a productive and collaborative process,” said Chip Kimball, superintendent of the Lake Washington School District. “We’re pleased to have King County and the cities as partners in supporting academic achievement.”

According to the county, the task force looked at a wide range of technical information in developing its recommendations, including perceived public health benefits connected with placing schools closer to homes so that students can walk or bike to school.

“Children can do better if they can walk to a neighborhood school rather being bused to a remote site in the rural area,” said rural area resident John Chaney, a task force member. “I’m pleased the task force was able to take a comprehensive look at our land use planning and develop solutions that will be lasting.”

Formation of the task force stems from an agreement between King County, Seattle, Bellevue, and the Suburban Cities Association in November to examine the question of whether sewer lines should be extended into rural areas.

The next step appears to be for Constantine to review the task force recommendations and propose new countywide planning policies. The county council will have the final say on any new rules, possibly in September.

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